Making Patterns Rhyme

Finishing something from nothing is kind of a miracle, every time. I am speaking in this case about creating a finished image from the bare bones of model shots, landscapes, objects and anything else that goes in them. Every time I finish one I am convinced there are no more, there will never be more, that this is the end. But of course that is never the case, and the pursuit of the next one is soon underway. The other thing that can rattle your confidence and make you stop production is reaching a creative high point. I am speaking of personal high points of course, not critical appraisal of them. My last new piece, "the Sad Death of Giants" was, to me, a high point, and I was more than a little scared to follow it up, sure that nothing would be as good as that one. It also did not help that I am running low on fresh shots to use.

So, rather than do nothing for an extended period of time, I did what I always do when this scenario occurs: start doing a series of re-edits of older pieces that could benefit from some improved editing skills and the added benefit of hindsight and distance. It's a healthy practice, I think, to re-edit older work. It keeps your skills sharpened, and it gives pieces with good ideas but less than stellar execution some new paint and new life. But I may have discovered an entirely new way of sidestepping the fear of the next new one  - by re-editing an old one so extensively that there is literally nothing left of the original. Lo and behold, a new one is born from the ashes of an old one, and the curse is lifted without even trying!

Technically this is the reboot of a sequel to another one that was recently rebooted. Hard to explain. Perhaps this is better: Last year I created two pieces, "Is There Something I Should Know?" and "Atlas' Marker" that were sort of a Part One and Part Two to each other. I recently re-edited "Is There Something I Should Know?" and the edit was pretty extensive, so much so that it was almost an entirely new piece, but not quite. During that process, I removed all the symbolism of the original and replaced it with something a little simpler, a little more relatable. Naturally, I wanted to re-edit the sequel image too, but in throwing away all the symbolism of the first one, this really left me with almost nothing in the sequel image that was usable.


the original version of "Is There Something I Should Know? and "Atlas' Marker," above.

The idea originally was this: in the first image, we see a young man being guided through a field of ladders by psychic strings and his camera. He was letting go of his conscious mind and allowing himself to be guided by instinct. It was about the creative process, about letting a piece tell you where it wants to go, and not forcing it. The sequel image, "Atlas' Marker" shows the same young man from the first one far in the distance, but he is being led to a rather sad conclusion - a place where creativity is slumped and dying, decay and darkness are descending. The sequel image was all about a dead end, working on something and only to find it unraveling.


the revised version of "Is There Something I Should Know?" and "Making Patterns Rhyme," above

Well, that's not a very happy sequel, not that it has to be, but in throwing away the psychic strings and the ladders and replacing it with verdant branches emanating from the camera in the first image, I felt I had to echo the new version of Part One in any reboot of Part Two. I decided to start with removing the original model in Part Two, and using the same model from Part One. What better way to say "sequel?" I found a shot from the same session with the model holding the camera, and it was a silhouette, most likely due to the lights not firing with the shutter, and I thought, well, the first one is very bright and almost cheerful, so this would be a good contrast for Part Two. In it went.

Since this is a sequel, and the original was about all the possibilities the camera and your creativity can produce expressed in the branches, I decided that now the branches would be moved to the head of the man, the idea being that the picture was taken in Part One, and idea formed, and now his mind is taking over the idea - the next phase of creating. First you use your tools to create (a camera) and then your imagination needs to take it to the next level. I still very much wanted the man in the original image to again be seen in the distance in this one, so in he went. But now what did it mean that he was there, since the concept had changed so radically? I quickly realized that this piece was becoming so departed from the original version that the very concept was changed now. In the original, there was a creative death, in this one, the man is clearly still flourishing, the branches from his mind are even more plentiful than they are in Part One. What did it now mean that there was an earlier version of himself in the distance, still doing what he was doing in Part One?

Well, this is where it gets a little personal and autobiographical. Before explaining the why, I added two more young men, making three clones in the distance, all seemingly encroaching upon the man in the foreground. They seem a little benign, not really threatening, but that gave me an idea to infuse into this, at least in my mind.

For three years I have immersed myself in the wonderful, bizarre, and yes, creatively incestuous world of Conceptual and Fine Art Photography. I have seen thousands of images from hundreds of artists in my time spent displaying my own, interacting with peers. There is one thing I found particularly distressing about this world - the penchant for copying others. It's as if many out there have no ideas of their own and look to others for them, and then copy the idea, sometimes verbatim. There are some shameful examples of this, though I will not name names. One person does a floating woman, hundreds copy her. One person does red yarn, the rest of them do the same thing. It is usually a product of the young, the impressionable, and we all do it to an extent. It is part of learning. But others take this too far, and stop trying for their own voice, and hungrily stalk those with bigger names and careers for ideas that they can, well, rip off. Steal. Some call it "inspiration." It's not, it's stealing.

Now, obviously we all have influences, and I am no different. Anyone who knows Art History will likely see a lot of Rene Magritte in my imagery. It's true, it is indeed there. But there is a difference between stealing and being influenced by someone. You will not see an apple in front of a model's face in my work. You will not see dozens of bowler hatted men raining down on a city. You will not see boots turning into feet. Those things would indeed be me copying Magritte. I share some sensibilities with him, or, more accurately, I have absorbed some sensibilities from him and channeled them into my work. Besides, Magritte did not own exclusive rights to a Bowler hat. I happen to like that time period for men's fashions, and so I use it too. But not always.

Anyway, that's what these three figures are in the distance - the thieves, the stealers of ideas, the copycats. Wherever one may go, whatever fresh approach one may develop, there will be those that take that idea or approach and use it themselves, rather than looking for their own. I found it mildly amusing that my main character is busy working on his idea and unaware or uninterested that there are these usurpers on his heels. And I am not at all saying I have been copied - I just see it a lot in this genre I am in. Find your own voices, people. Develop your own way of doing things.

Finally, about the title…

Since this is a sequel image to the re-edited version of "Is There Something I Should Know?" which was titled after the Duran Duran song of the same name, I decided, unlike the last time I did these two images, that this one should also bear a connection to Duran Duran as well, and since this image is about creativity and those that seek to plunder it and call it their own, I thought "Making Patterns Rhyme" fit pretty well. This comes from the lyrics of the band's first single, "Planet Earth" which contained the line "Only came outside to watch the night fall with the rain/I Heard you making patterns rhyme…"

Michael Bilotta

May14, 2014